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Google Google Ads Data & Privacy

Google’s ads privacy lead on why it’s fighting to save the ad-funded internet

By Claire Norburn, Ads privacy lead

September 23, 2022 | 7 min read

Digital advertising needs to be safer, but giving up on an ad-supported web entirely would be a mistake writes Google’s Claire Norburn.

Human silhouette behind data

Access to quality information has never been more important than it is today. We’re living through a pandemic, seeing a cost of living and energy crisis, witnessing a horrific war in Ukraine and experiencing increasing climate crises across the globe.

People rely on accessible and trusted information to help them navigate the uncertainty. Today, nearly 90% of Europe is online, with an explosion of tools, information and content at their fingertips.

Ads have played a key role in that, having funded our favorite content from newspapers to magazines, entertainment TV and now the web. But with more people online and more concerned about their privacy, the ads-funded internet model has become a subject of debate.

People are rejecting ads they view as spammy or invasive. Regulators across the world are rightly demanding a more private internet and some critics are calling for a ban on personalized ads completely.

It’s clear that we need a more responsible, respectful internet. Digital advertising needs to be safer for people, successful for publishers and stronger for businesses. But giving up on an ad-supported web entirely would be a mistake. Here’s why:

Ads can be made more private

Moving to a world without third-party cookies means rethinking the tech on which much of the advertising system is built and building new, privacy-first solutions. But those solutions can – and do – exist.

We’re sharing and testing many of them through the Privacy Sandbox: providing new technologies that will allow users to see relevant ads without compromising their privacy or tracking them across sites. We’re collaborating with industry on the change, listening to their feedback while staying on course to deprecate third-party cookies by the end of 2024.

These aren’t the only changes we’re making. At Dmexco in Cologne, we announced two more new tools to help both users and advertisers towards a more private web.

The first is the Google Ads Privacy Hub, set up to help advertisers keep track of product innovations and learn from others.

The second is My Ad Center. Last year, 300 million people visited Ad Settings, choosing to make ads more specific to them. My Ad Center will give people control over the ads they want to see across Search, Discover and YouTube by choosing what they like and don’t – in a single place. This works because the best ads are helpful, relevant and safe.

Ads will be more private

Last year, we surveyed over 7,000 Europeans and found that when brands respect privacy, their ads perform better. This year, we dug deeper: asking 20,000 Europeans about the consequences of good and bad privacy experiences.

Research shows that the industry won’t just be rewarded for respecting people’s privacy – it can’t afford not to.

Three-quarters of those surveyed preferred to buy from brands that gave them more control of their privacy and nearly half said that they would switch to a brand that respected their privacy online.

When brands got it wrong, the results were drastic. A bad privacy experience has almost as negative an effect on customer trust as a theft of their data: enough to make them switch to another brand entirely. The impact of a negative privacy experience outweighs that of a positive one, so once the damage is done it’s almost impossible for brands to bring customers back.

The research was clear: a private ad is an effective ad. So, moving to a more private model isn’t just an option – it’s a necessity.

People want an ad-supported web

Making the change to a more respectful, responsible ads-supported web model isn’t only vital to advertising success – it’s essential for the future of the web.

We’ve seen calls to ban personalized advertising altogether and rely only on ‘contextual’ advertising. But that won’t pay for the web everyone wants. It has been estimated that if personalized advertising were to suddenly go away, as much as $32bn to $39bn would shift away from those who rely on open web technology, including publishers, at a time where authoritative information has never been more important.

Some say that all services should simply be paid for. But that would turn the web into a luxury good, shutting billions out. It’s why Netflix, a pioneer of the subscription model, and others like Disney and HBO are now introducing ads for users who want – or need – to pay less.

These alternative models aren’t just flawed, they’re unpopular. Research by IAB Europe shows that 75% of Europeans would choose today’s experience of the internet over one without targeted ads where they would need to pay to access websites, content and apps.

For online advertising and the future of the internet, this is a now or never moment. Without people’s trust, the future of the ad-supported web is at stake. We need to embrace the change and build an ad-supported web fit for the future: a web that gives people the quality information they need, delivered with the privacy they deserve, by brands they can trust. We’re here to help support that transition.

Claire Norburn is the ads privacy lead for Google in the UK and Ireland.

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